Voice I No Longer Remember

Practice spirit speech.
Wander through night doors.

Salt food with sweat.
Rise at first light.

Place a hand on a friend’s shoulder.
Walk invisibly through forests.

Inhale wet leaf aroma.
Tread paths with no destination.

Accept advice from songbirds.
Give foolishness a home.

Define success for yourself.
Overwrite old memories.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


Paul fades in the distance.
He walks home from a visit.
Earlier he entered my studio touched.

The second dictionary meaning.
Slightly insane. Crazy.
Affected by something unspoken.

He floated like a cloud.
Heavy with rain.
Too thick to catch a glimpse of the sun.

He poured himself a cup of tea.
He perched on a stool.
Then a workbench.

Then he stood adjacent to my canvas.
He pointed to something.
His finger touched the wet paint.

A combination of white and blues
in the process of becoming sky.
He wiped his fingertip on my blue jeans.

I turned to glare at him.
He stared back daring me.
My brush stroked his nose.

He broke into a grin.
The grin expanded to laughter.
His laugh was infectious.

We laughed for a good long while.
We laughed until our sides ached.
He clapped me on the back.

No rag removed the paint from his nose.
He exited my studio.
He walked up the grassy hill toward home.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

All the Help He Got

Paul looked in the mirror
for lines and cracks
uneasy that he might be broken.

Finding none
he did not declare it a miracle
but a failure to locate.

It is a long way home
from wars he fought
on cratered battlefields.

He did not find god
in a foxhole
or the burned out churches.

He pinched himself
to prove the fact
of his existence.

The fertile fields
awaited his labor
for maize and beans.

Not soldiers
and civilians
labeled as collateral.

The sun tipped the earth
for slanted rays
to sharply illuminate.

Paul stopped to smell the rose petals
before he took up the plow
furrowed the field behind a horse

so physical labor might
sweat the war out of him
and camaraderie be established

with an animal
that does not judge him
by his past.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


Paul took a long drag
on American exceptionalism
while he drank
a pint of upward mobility.

He looked
from his laborer hands
to the barroom mirror
and searched his face

for the American Dream
and found the Liberty Bell’s crack
and the manure piles
of Paul Revere’s horse.

He taped the ashes
off exceptionalism into a glass tray
and relived the putdowns
he hears each day

by those people paid for their brains
not their physical actions
and the currency of elitism
over his bartered production.

Paul might have been created equal
but what was equal
about the poverty he was born into
and the wage war

his father fought each day
trying to achieve decency
against the ideals
of free markets and capitalism.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


Paul sits in nature.
He does not write a nature poem.

He sees a burger wrapper
rolled by the wind across his field of vision.

He gets up
removes the wrapper from this nature scene

and sits back down on brown pine needles
at the base of a ponderosa.

Paul recognizes he sits in nature
and the burger wrapper sits wadded up

in his left hip pocket
and wonders if that is separation enough?

He recognizes his father
would not think about such things.

His father would enjoy the mountain
and probably would not have picked up

the burger wrapper
figuring some very small animal would not starve

because it found the cheese and ketchup
stuck on the wrapper.

Annoyed Paul gets up and starts down the mountain
out of nature and back to the trailhead.

There might as well be a red line
at the edge of the trailhead parking lot.

One side would be marked nature.
The other side would be labeled not-nature.

Paul recognizes it is an artificial line
that he places on the trailhead parking lot.

It delineates where the feeling of Away enters his body.
Away from Taos New Mexico.

Away from traffic. From mechanical noises.
Away from cultural differences and local politics.

Away from trash littering the street.
Away from everything he needs to get away from.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

No Thunder No Lightning

Paul asked God to come down
and dangle feet off the end of the pier into the lake—
for them to have a talk about important things.

Paul pushed a tune out of a penny whistle while waiting.
He watched his mirroring image in the lake surface.
How it wobbled through his recent ups and downs.

God arrived as a gentle rain
that settled in the mountain valley
and speckled all the land and water in sight.

Paul spoke his most intimate conversation
with face lifted into the rain.
Drops occasionally interrupted a word

as they hit his mouth deep in his throat.
Or it could be that he choked up
with tears hidden by the falling water.

During this time Paul found his tongue
was made of cedar and magpie feathers
and his skin felt like it unraveled to expose his inner self.

The rain ended as sudden as it began.
Paul felt God rise back to the god place
as the sunshine returned.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


Paul can pack the car
in fifteen minutes
and not forget the hamsters
if he feels the world
is about to explode
with happiness
too big for his heart
to contain.
Off he will drive
with a honey bear
tipping off the top
of the car’s roof
when he crosses the bump
at the end of the driveway
to some place
unknown to us
and him
(until he finds it)
where the loudest sound
is the forest growing
and god does not mix
with the second
and nights have
no street-lamps
to block the stars.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Opens Under Fire

Paul stands
in a hollow on a mountain.

The hollow does not allow him to view
the broad river valley below.

Most people climb mountains
to view far away things.

Paul hikes the mountain
for a closer look

at the trees and wildflowers
and rock that extends deep into the earth.

Some days he presses his face
into ponderosa pine trunks

to view the variations in bark
and catch a whiff of vanilla.

Other days he sits on a rock outcropping
in a high meadow where pikas live

and watches them become accustom
to his quiet sitting.

They grace him with their presence
and rodent antics.

This is his paradise.
His garden of eden.

He imagines God’s forbidden fruit
described as a pine cone.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


Every midsummer’s night
our daughter slips out of heaven
and watches us sleep
in a tossed-covers bed.

If either of us woke
we would see her standing there
in her ethereal-spectral form
with twinkling stars in her eyes.

But we never do wake
to see this spectacle
because she comes to see us
in the innocence of sleep.

The type of Adam & Eve sleep
before the Apple
before the introduction
of the knowledge of good and evil.

Our daughter leaves messages
in the guise of hummingbirds
that there is no good or evil.
Thus we should not suffer.

That message is easiest to believe
during the day in the foothills
when we are among piñon jays
and the junipers are thick with berries.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Twenty-Nine Years On

My father died
on the third of August
nineteen ninety-two
in an auto accident
when he mistook
a two-way stop
for a four-way stop
after surviving
the nineteen-eighteen influenza
the great depression
World War Two
the Korean War
the death of his son
and a heart attack.

At his funeral
and after we spread
his ashes
over the cornfields
he farmed
as a young man
his voice kept appearing
in my ears
with mixed messages
about how I handled
the death of my daughter
and other aspects
of being a man.

If his voice showed up
in my dreams
I could have
written off the experience
as the chaotic language
dreams use for the dead
to communicate with the living
even if their fist pounds
into their open palm
and shouts
I should embrace
the church and work
not therapy
to quiet my pounding heart.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney